According to the latest Census data, the majority of American commuters spend the equivalent of nine days driving to and from work. That just about reaches the average 10-day PTO policy provided by thousands of employers across the country.
The Census also found that Americans commute over 26 minutes each way, to and from work, every single day—the longest the commute has ever been since the census first started collecting this data nearly 40 years ago. Back then, the national average commute was about 22 minutes each way. A few extra minutes may seem small at first, but at over five days a week and 50 weeks a year, it ends up consuming inordinate amounts of time.
And then there are “super commuters.”
The rise of super commuters
A study by Apartment List found that there are over 3.5 million Americans who self-classify as super commuters with the highest concentration located in the San Francisco Bay Area. These workers drive over three hours to and from their employer every day, spending over a month commuting every year.
So how did we get to the point where the commute consumed our vacation time? And how are these trends affecting America’s workforce? The answer lies in our reliance on the single-occupancy trips putting more cars on our roads and additional burdens on our workforce.
We live in a solo-trip society
One of the most revealing statistics from the 2017 Census is the fact that over three-quarters of Americans drive to work alone. The U.S. News and World Report revealed that nearly 115 million single-occupancy vehicles are transporting exactly one person each, clogging our roadways, and increasing commute times nationwide. After tallying up one-way trips for an average work year, that equates to over 50 billion solo commute trips taken per year.
Additionally, with an expanding workforce that has seen record numbers of growth year over year, more Americans are going to be joining the droves of solo commuters. Many of these new jobs are found in major metro areas where housing prices have skyrocketed, barring thousands of workers from living near their employers. For many young adults, in particular, the cost of housing can take up as much as 45% of their income. These trends are driving people farther away from their employers and forcing many folks to build their lives around longer commutes.
Employees are feeling the pain
Research continues to show how workers’ health and well-being continue to decline as a result of growing commute times. Studies show that people who commute longer distances, or for longer periods of time, are more likely to suffer from obesity and increased blood pressure. These long treks to and from work also promote unhealthy snacking in the face of time scarcity.
Employees’ mental health and well-being don’t go unscathed either, as many commuters report feeling more stressed and exhibit increasing amounts of depressive symptoms. In fact, one study found that the commute has become one of the least enjoyable parts of people’s lives.
When the commute becomes associated with all of these negative side-effects, its connotations can often transfer over to how people feel about their jobs. A study by staffing firm Robert Half found that one in four people have quit their jobs because a painful commute became too much for them to bear.
These trends don’t have to stay this way, though. With the rise of flex work and emerging employee commute solutions, the future is bright for American commuters.
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